Thursday, June 03, 2010

An Ordinary Man



A few weeks ago I finished reading "An Ordinary Man" by Paul Rusesabagina which is his account of the 1994 Rwandan genocide (the movie Hotel Rwanda is based on his experience). It was an eye-opening book and made me ask a lot of questions about the responsibilities of the international community in domestic affairs. For those of you not familiar with the genocide here is a little background: Rwanda, like most of Africa was colonized by Europeans, specifically the Dutch who in order to sustain their power divided ordinary Rwandans into two groups: Hutus and Tutsis. This was done based solely on their physical appearance: Tutsis were defined as taller with thinner noses and Hutus were distinguished by being shorter with wider noses. The Tutsis were put into leadership positions leading to animosity and contention between the two groups. Even after decolonization, these "identities" and most particularly the HATE and sense of inequality endured until it all erupted in the 1994 Genocide where Hutu militias targeted all Tutsis and Tutsi sympathizers for execution. As well, Tutsi militias organized and began to conduct revenge killings. "In the weeks after April 6, 1994, 800,000 men, women, and children perished in the Rwandan genocide, perhaps as many as three quarters of the Tutsi population. At the same time, thousands of Hutu were murdered because they opposed the killing campaign and the forces directing it." (United Human Rights Council- RWANDA) This is definitely a simplified explanation of a very complex problem that existed for years until it finally erupted in the most horrible of ways.

Obviously, it would have been wonderful to avoid the whole awful, awful ordeal, but it is not so simple. A friend of mine took an international law class and lent me some of his class materials to look at to help me understand better the role that international forces can and should play in domestic disputes. My studies have taught me how VERY complicated it is, but also how very essential it is for the more established and stable countries to help how they can. There were a lot of mistakes and a lot of backs turned during the genocide and it is interesting to study them and try to understand how to avoid EVER letting such atrocities occur again. The website from above stated it this way: span style="font-style:italic;">"Although the Rwandans are fully responsible for the organization and execution of the genocide, governments and peoples elsewhere all share in the shame of the crime because they failed to prevent and stop this killing campaign. I am not trying to blame the West, the U.N., or the United States, but I wish I could understand what should have been done by those groups and why they were NOT done (Why NOTHING was done until it was too late for 800,000 people). As the world gets smaller and smaller it seems that our responsibilities to one another get bigger and bigger. We can no longer use the ignorance card because we now know what is going on throughout the world. When we sit idly by it is because we choose to. I hope that law school will help me understand international law better so that I can understand why things like the 1994 Rwandan Genocide could happen without the international community jumping in to stop it. I understand that there are laws that dictate what a country can or cannot do to aide another in a domestic dispute, but it might be time for a reassessment of those laws so as to ensure that another genocide or other human rights violations cannot occur without the international community being able to (AND having the obligation to) step in and do something to help.

In the last chapter of the book, Rusesabagina writes, "What happened? Hitler's Final Solution was supposed to have been the last expression of this monstrous idea- the final time the world would tolerate a deliberate attempt to exterminate an entire race. But genocide remains the most pressing human rights question of the twenty-first century. Each outbreak has its differences on the surface. In Cambodia slaughter was done in the name of absurd political dogma; in Bosnia the killings erupted after the fragmenting of a multiethnic federation; the Kurds in Iraq were gassed when they demanded independence from a dictator, and today in Sudan innocent people are dying because they occupy oil-rich territory coveted by the ethnic majority... Look closely at each of the world's recent genocides, however, and the surface differences burn away. The core of genocide is always the same. They erupt under the cover of war. They are the brainchildren of insecure leaders eager for more power. Governments ease their people into them gradually. Other nations must be persuaded to look away. And all genocides rely heavily on the power of GROUP THINKING to embolden the everyday killers." (192-193) Just think of how many genocides there were int the 20th century! In an age of industrialization and such HUGE technological advancements society seems to continue to lag behind. This should NOT be happening now.

One more paragraph to quote:
"A sad truth of human nature is that it is hard to care for people when they are abstractions, hard to care when it is not you or somebody close to you. Unless the world community can stop finding ways to dither in the face of this monstrous threat to humanity those words Never Again will persist in being one of the most abused phrases in the English language and one of the greatest lies of our time." (195)

This last paragraph really struck me. This is one of the MANY reasons why the Gospel is so precious. It teaches us of the worth of EACH and EVERY human soul out there. It allows us to view the world not in terms of abstractions as Mr. Rusesagabina wrote, but as humans, individuals, our brothers and sisters who while geographically far from us are close to us in the family of God. It is a great blessing in my life to know of the worth of souls. I can always be better about seeing it in others and respecting it, but as I work towards being better I am able to love and care about people I do not know but who I know God knows and loves. For me, the most important thing we can do now is become educated on these issues and to understand what it is the international community can do and SHOULD do when we are again faced with a tragedy such as the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. And that brings me to my last point: We ARE CURRENTLY faced with a tragedy such as the Rwandan Genocide: Southern Sudan. The U.S. "talks" about doing something, but have yet to do it. Now is the time to make the necessary changes and to act, not tomorrow or 10 years down the line, but now.

Some additional sites/articles to check out: (Be warned that some of these include disturbing images)
NPR.ORG
BBCNEWS.ORG
PRI.ORG
LDS.ORG

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